We're home, and dispersed, and the project is over. Here's a little recap of our last few weeks:
Heading south from Washington, D.C., we picked up our newest crew member, the esteemed Matt Frost, from the airport in Richmond, Virginia. We spent a few days in the area re-working our plays. When we went down to three members, we had to partially recast two of our shows, and heavily revise our flagship piece, Pantalone Goes A-Wooing, to require fewer actors. In the new version, old man Pantalone became too weak to continue the adventure, so his clowning servant Arlecchino disguised himself as his master and went to woo the beautiful widow La Donna Lucia in his place. This allowed me (Forrest) to start out as Pantalone, duck offstage midway through to quickly change into La Donna Lucia, and rejoin the action to be wooed by an imposter of myself. Emily and Angie would stall onstage, finding ways to add in more funny bits, as I rushed to get changed. Two or three times a kind passerby even offered to zip up my dress for me! We made it work, but we were glad to get back to a four-person cast when Matt joined us, since our revised version presented some difficulties. The plot was harder to follow for audience members who started watching partway through and missed the reason for the disguise, and we had to cut a few good gags that required four people. When Matt joined us, we also completely changed the casting, so that we could explore playing different characters and try new things with the play.
We performed briefly in Richmond, but the farmers market was closed for the season, and the few spaces we found with foot traffic were private property where we couldn’t perform. So we said goodbye to Virginia and pressed southward.
We had a great weekend of performances in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham, North Carolina. The weather and the farmers’ markets were good. Our favorite spot in the area was a community park and playground outside of downtown Chapel Hill. We went there Saturday morning to rehearse a little before going to the farmers market, but by the time we had finished a run-through of one of our shows, quite a few families had stopped to watch! So we came back after the farmers’ market and ended up performing there three times over the weekend.
Upon leaving that area, however, our fortunes began to turn a little for the worse. We tried Greensboro, but the only place in town where we found folks to perform for was a private park, where we were told we couldn't perform. We moved on to Charlotte, but the weather had turned against us. Unsurprisingly, daytime temperatures in the forties and whipping winds strongly discouraged people from stopping on the street to watch our shows. Many of the farmers’ markets were also closing for the season, which made venues harder to find. Looking at the weather predictions, we had some tough decisions to make. We had planned on being home in Michigan by Thanksgiving, which was at that point just over two weeks away. We had also planned on making Atlanta, Georgia, the southernmost point in our tour. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t look like it was going to get much better, even down in Georgia.
Rather than continuing to perform in the cold, we decided to focus on preparing for a final series of indoor performances back in Michigan, improving our current show material and adding another play or two to spice up those last performances. So we spent a few days making our way westward through North Carolina, finding spaces in parks to work and rehearse. Our last weekend on the road was in Asheville, N.C., where we had a few fabulous performances at a farmers’ market and a park downtown. The weather obliged us one beautiful day, and the folks in Asheville were fun, receptive audience members. We made some new friends, and stayed Saturday night at The Landing, an incredible community in Asheville built on sustainability, gardening, circus arts and music. A wonderful group of people and a beautiful place.
On Sunday, November 17th, after spending most of a day exploring a rainy Asheville, we pointed the bus north. We had a stormy drive up through the Smoky Mountains, stayed over in Kentucky, and on Monday the 18th, two months and two days after hitting the road, we arrived back in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
We spent a few days at home rehearsing and planning for our final performance. One of our particular unique challenges for this show was how how to keep our seated audience entertained during costume changes between plays. We brainstormed various possibilities for these interludes and settled on a few that spoofed our experiences on the road: hyping an acrobatics trick featuring our dietary staple, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich (the impossible trick was never performed); a parody of our living statue performance in Providence, and an “improvised” stand-up routine by the commedia servant character Zanni.
We added a new play as well, in addition to the three we had been performing on the road. The Path of True Love allowed us to explore some traditional commedia characters that weren’t in our other plays: Isabella, the young lover, daughter to old man Pantalone; Franceschina, her maidservant and the cleverest of the bunch; il Capitano, the penniless con who pretends to be a great warrior; and Lelio, Isabella’s lover who shows up at the last minute to duel the captain. We had originally been hoping to do The Path of True Love on the road, but it required five people, and so it never came to fruition. Nathan in particular had done excellent work on the script already, adapting it from a longer play with more characters, so we decided we should drag him back for one last hurrah to play Lelio. Hidden in the audience in plain clothes, he jumped up from his seat at the climax of the play, sword drawn, to rush to the rescue of his love. Special thanks go to Drew Clark, who filled in for Nathan the night he couldn’t be there.
The performances took place in the Carrie Jay Studio in Dexter, where our friend Carrie teaches acting and voice lessons. The space presented its own set of challenges: the necessity of modulating our volume for the enclosed space and rearranging some of the action to fit the layout of the room. We had the new experience of having a door upstage center; when we perform out in the open, leaving “upstage” just makes us farther away from the audience, but still in full view. But if there’s anything we’ve learned on this crazy voyage, it’s the ability to adapt to any size and shape of space at a moment’s notice.
The performances went well; a good time was had by all. The following Monday we all got together to clean out our beloved bus, and then we said our goodbyes. Angie and Matt got on a train to spend Thanksgiving in New Hampshire with his family, and they’re planning on moving back to New York, where they both went to school, in January. Nathan and Robyn are back to working with Barefoot Productions in Plymouth, Michigan, and the Ann Arbor Young Actors Guild. Emily drove back to her family in Massachusetts and is exploring several options for her next adventures. And I’m here in Ann Arbor, with a brightly colored bus parked out front. And as soon as I’m done with this blog post, I’ll be getting down to business writing a paper on “A Practical Study of Nomadic and Street Theater Traditions.”
Thank you all for being a part of this magical adventure.
Well folks, it's been a while. Sorry about that. You ready? Here goes:
New Haven seems such a distant memory, but I suppose that's where we left off. After New Haven, we went to Norwalk, CT, which hadn't very many people, and we had a new play to start rehearsing, The Path of True Love
, so we decided to concentrate on that. Someone told us, however, that while in the area we had to check out the Westport Country Playhouse
, just up the road in Westport, so we did. We found a park to rehearse in just behind the theater, and then happened to meet Michael Ross, the managing director of the theater, who gave us free tickets to see that night's show, Room Service.
The play was wonderful, a fast-paced comedy about New York showbiz. It was fun to be reminded of that more common world of theater, the kind that doesn't involve living in small buses.
Next stop was a lovely little farmers market in Stamford, CT, and then it was on to New York! We stayed with my (Forrest's) friend Jesse in Brooklyn. We performed several places while in New York, mostly farmers markets in Queens and Brooklyn. We had one very interesting experience with a performance of Fool's Gold in McGolrick Park in Brooklyn. The audience was mostly kids with their parents, and several of the kids got very invested in the world of invisible objects that the play begins with. They then got very excited when the first real object appears, a key, talking and shouting about it. But the real surprise came when the real chest of treasure came on stage; as soon as it was open, the kids rushed the stage and started grabbing handfuls of the prop treasure! Fortunately their parents were all on hand to yell at them to give it back, and they did for the most part, but it was certainly a fascinating lesson to us in how excited and involved in the story kids can get.
Partway through our stay in New York we said goodbye to two of our troupe members, Robyn and Nathan, as they headed back to Michigan. We are grateful for their part in the project, and we wish them well on their next adventures. This Wednesday we will be welcoming a new member on board the Vagari Project, the much spoken of Matt Frost. He'll be catching up with us in Richmond, Virginia.
After New York, we made a short stop at a farmers market in Edison, New Jersey, where we received a very warm welcome. The organizers asked us to drive our bus right into the middle of the market and perform with it as a backdrop, which we've never yet had the opportunity to do. Also, a big shout-out to Joe and the Raritan Bakery of Edison. Joe sent us on our way with many sweet goodies and fresh loaves of bread for the road. Next stop was Philadelphia. First we had a quiet day off there, resting up and recuperating from New York. Then on Tuesday (last week) we performed both in Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square park. One funny thing we learned about Philly while driving in it: Honking is used for all kinds of expressions. On several occasions I was startled by people repeatedly beeping their horns as they passed me, only to then see they were pointing at our bus, and giving us thumbs-up and smiles and the like.
On Wednesday in Philly we had some interesting challenges: Our first ever indoor performances! The first was at the Plymouth Meeting Friends School, which my cousins used to attend and my aunt teaches at (we were staying with them in Philly). We were going to have the performance out on the blacktop, but poor weather forced us into the gym. The whole school was there, about sixty kids, kindergarten through sixth grade. We remembered quite quickly that gyms echo noise a lot more than parks do. Certainly some lines were not understood as we adjusted, but adjust we did. The kids had a lot of fun with it, and so did we. That evening we performed in a much different space, my aunt and uncle's living room. They invited the whole block over for dinner and theater, and we rearranged the furniture, cleared some room, and did our shows for an audience of about 20 in a space only a few times larger than our (very small) bus. Amazingly, we didn't have to adapt to much of the physicality of the show. I suppose we're pretty used to adapting it to different shapes and sizes of performance space, so except for the ceiling above us, it wasn't too far out of the ordinary. We did have to decrease the volume significantly though, much more than at the school. We're so used to shouting over the din of traffic and the general noise of life, it's suddenly quite strange to perform for a group of people who are all in the same quiet place as us and giving us their full attention.
After Philly we spent Halloween in Newark, Delaware, enjoying not receiving odd looks for wearing funny clothes and masks for once. We practiced our commedia skills, doing some improvisations in character, creating very basic problems and goals for our commedia characters and playing them out together. Once Matt joins us, we're going to start creating our own commedia-style play based on all the things we've discovered working with the other pieces, and of course our own ideas.
Baltimore was a fun city, we performed first at Inner Harbor, with the water and ships as our backdrop, and then in the neighborhood of Hampden in the evening. They had a first Friday of the month event downtown, where all the galleries and and antique shops and such were open late and had food and drink, and everyone was out on the town.
This weekend we were in our nation's fine capital. We performed at Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, downtown Bethesda, and Georgetown. Eastern Market was definitely our best spot. We went there both days. On weekends they have huge outdoor markets surrounding the indoor market, and the place was bustling. We also got a fun treat of our own. In Baltimore we met Gina, who teaches commedia dell'arte, and who recommended we contact a colleague of hers in DC, Matt, who's the artistic director of Faction of Fools
, a commedia dell'arte theater company. We emailed him, and he invited us to sit in on a run-through of a commedia show he's directing at the University of Maryland, Molière Impromptu.
This was such a treat, and very inspiring. We left a little dazed, but full of ideas.
Today we had a day off in Washington and took time to explore downtown and visit many various monuments, memorials, and museums. Next stop is Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then Richmond later in the week. The Vagari Project presses southward!
Hey folks, it's been a while. We've been keeping busy (and keeping inconsistent in our internet contact with the world), so this will be a long post, but here goes.
After leaving Hampshire College on the morning of Monday, October 7th, we drove to Worcester, Massachusetts, but were greeted again by intermittent rain. We did squeeze one performance in that day between storms, actually in the town green in Framingham, Mass. Night found us in Boston, visiting our friend Margaret. Tuesday we performed most of the afternoon on the Boston Common with the gleaming gold plated capital building as a backdrop. We found Boston quite receptive to our work. On Wednesday we had a much needed rest day. Angie, Nathan, and Robyn took a tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery, Emily and myself got an in-depth historical tour of Boston from the Slezas family, who also hosted us for part of our time in Boston.
On Thursday we were back at it, performing in three different locations around Boston: South Station, the Aquarium, and Copley Square. Our biggest lesson in large cities was that finding locations with lots of people is only useful to a point; once there is so much traffic and hubbub that we are no longer the most noticeable thing happening, fewer people stop to watch. We found some fun audiences with lots of kids in the Public Garden on Friday, and went back to Copley Square for their farmers market. After a lovely dinner with Angie's aunt and uncle, we headed south again.
Rhode Island was the sixth state we've performed in, and of course the smallest. Providence had one of the biggest, busiest farmers markets we've been to yet. We had a very interesting discovery there about our show Fool's Gold.
We've had somewhat mediocre success with this play in several places. The major theme in this play is imaginary versus real objects. Audiences often don't engage with it really well – perhaps at first they think we're just being cheap and don't have real set and props. At the Providence farmers market, though, we played it for a large audience mostly made up of children, and they loved it! It hadn't occurred to us that young minds would of course be more willing to suspend disbelief and participate in the games of imagination.
We got a tip from a fellow we met at the farmers market that that night was a huge event in downtown Providence – Waterfire. It's a festival where they light fires all down the main canal through town, and everyone comes out to watch. We went there, hoping to try to find a corner of the event to perform in, but when we got there, we immediately knew that our shows weren't right for the mood of this event. We were there, though, in costume and mask, so we got creative. There were a few living statues in various places around the event, so we found a good unoccupied spot with a couple of wide stone pedestals and hopped up on them. Within minutes we had gathered a large crowd of people watching, taking pictures, and of course, putting money in the hats. It was wild! It had never occurred to us that we could branch out into living statue work. We decided we want to practice and develop those skills, and try that again soon.
We spent the next two days in the New London/Mystic, CT area. We performed in Mystic, both in town and in the Mystic River Park. We also had a read-through of our next piece, The Path of True Love. It's from the same book of commedia plays as Pantalone Goes A-Wooing
and Fool's Gold,
but it was too long and had too many characters for our purposes, so Nathan adapted it, cutting out one character and a whole lot of text. We're very excited to start rehearsing it. This show will add another element of fun and danger to our work: sword fights!
On Tuesday we stopped in Middletown, CT, to perform at Wesleyan University, Emily's alma mater. You can read an article
about us in Wesleying, their student-run news website, in which Emily answers some questions about her experience with the project. We confirmed again here that college students are very enthusiastic audience members, and never carry cash. We're exploring the possibility of having online donations on our website that people can easily use if they see our show and want to donate but don't have cash. We are, after all, in the 21st century, and one can be sure that if the commedia troupes of the renaissance had had access to online donating options, they would have hopped right on that bandwagon.
Tuesday evening brought us to our current location, New Haven! We've had a great welcome here, both from friends and family and our audiences in general. We performed today at the farmers market and on Yale's campus. Yesterday we had a quiet day off, catching up on some rest and spending time with our New Haven friends and family.
And now we're off again. Today we're heading town to Norwalk, CT, then to Stamford on Saturday for the farmers market there, and then Sunday we begin our adventure into the biggest, baddest yet: New York City!
Pantalone goes a-wooing in Copley Square, Boston.
He keeps on a-wooing.
Angie and Nathan enjoy a dangerous fountain near the aquarium in Boston.
Angie as a living Arlecchino statue at Waterfire Providence.
Forrest as a living statue at Waterfire Providence.
Pantalone woos on in Mystic, CT.
Oh, the desperation! Oh, the rejection!
The troupe in front of the Mystic River drawbridge.
Before we get into all of our fun adventures from this past week, one small piece we forgot from the previous week: The sidewalk we performed on in front of the town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire is actually part of the Appalachian Trail. There's a performance venue for you!
On Tuesday we got up nice and early and headed out to the farmers market in Keene, New Hampshire. It wasn't very busy, but we had a few enthusiastic audience members, and came away with a beautiful loaf of artisan bread and a wedge of delicious cheese. We moved on downtown and performed a few times in Keene during the lunch hour. Next we cruised over to Brattleboro, Vermont, and discovered it to be a very lovely, welcoming little town. We found a beautiful little park with a perfect semicircle of benches, and had a great performance there, and then another in the plaza with benches at the Brattleboro Food Co-op. There we met a couple of new friends, Fox and Chloe, who are students at the New England Center for Circus Arts. We had a great time talking with them and learning a little about the CCA. They recommended that we come back on Friday for Gallery Walk, a big downtown event on the first Friday of every month in Brattleboro.
That night we made it to the tiny town of Leyden, Massachusetts, and Emily's parents' house. There weren't any bustling town centers or crowds for us to perform for in Leyden, but the Milky Way stretched across the sky at night and the mist rose off the mountains in the morning. On Wednesday, after the misty morning, we drove out to Greenfield, Massachusetts, and performed for some interesting crowds there. It's always fun when the employees of whatever restaurant or cafe we're near slip out to watch for a bit. Hopefully we help to break up the monotony of the work day.
We ended the day back at the Caffery homestead, spent another restful night there, and struck out southward to Northampton, Massachusetts. We performed several times there at a couple of different bus stops. This included our first public performances of our new show, Fool's Gold. It went well, all things considered, while also highlighting the flaws in the show and the aspects that still need major work. We spent the night befittingly parked in the theater building parking lot at Hampshire College.
On Friday afternoon we had a very fun and successful performance on the library lawn at Hampshire. With the audience mostly comprised of my (Forrest's) friends and professors, we had the pleasure of performing for a large, attentive audience. We performed all three of the shows we've been performing, our first time showing them all to one audience. Then, taking the advice of our new circus friends, we drove back up to Brattleboro for several performances during Gallery Walk. This marked our first time performing after dark. We had a lot of fun learning to perform by street lights.
Saturday morning found us performing in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the farmers market. The market was bustling, and we had yet another first: rotating through our three show repertoire, we did a total of six consecutive performances in one location. After that marathon, we spent a little time wandering downtown Amherst, ate a little frozen yogurt, and went back to spend another night at Hampshire College. This morning was rather rainy, but with hopes of sun, we headed back north a little way to Conway, Massachusetts, to check out the Festival of the Hills and see about performing there. Unfortunately, the rain only increased as the day went on, so performing was not viable, but we did have a great time exploring the festival: we held owls, split logs, ate fried dough, and watched a parade. On our way back south we stopped in the Yankee Candle in Deerfield, which is disturbingly enormous, and includes an indoor Christmas Bavarian village, a fudge shop, a toy store, and of course lots and lots of candles.
Now we're visiting Hampshire again very briefly, but by bedtime we'll be near Worcester, Massachusetts. Our approximate schedule for the next week and a bit is as such:
Monday, Oct. 7th: Worcester, MA
Tuesday, Oct. 8th – Friday, Oct. 11th: Boston, MA
Saturday, Oct. 12th: farmers markets in Providence, RI
Sunday, Oct. 13th: TBD
Monday, Oct 14th: New London, CT
Tuesday, Oct 15th: Middletown, CT
Wednesday, Oct. 16th – Thursday, Oct. 17th: New Haven, CT
The troupe at a bus stop in Northampton, MA. Photo by Troy David Mercier.
Emily and Nathan in Mr. Rabbit Takes Mr. Wolf for a Ride at Hampshire College. Photo by Troy David Mercier.
Mr. Rabbit makes a friend at the Amherst Farmers Market.
And a slideshow of our adventure at the Conway Festival of the Hills:
We're well into it now. Our second week has had some ups and downs, and lots of exciting new happenings. After Manchester last Monday, we went on to perform at the Bedford, New Hampshire, farmers market. An excellent time was had by all. There were a lot of kids, so we performed Mr. Rabbit Takes Mr. Wolf for a Ride a couple of times, as well as Pantalone Goes A-Wooing. After that we headed up to the capital of New Hampshire, Concord. We found a couple of nice little plazas to perform in downtown, and then went out to their Wednesday farmers market. It was a small market, but the farmers enjoyed our show so much they sent us on our way loaded down with beautiful fresh food: potatoes, squash, tomatoes, shallots, apples, pears, and even donuts and cider.
Thursday morning found us splashing our toes in the Atlantic Ocean in Kittery, Maine, where we met a new friend, Mark, who loved us and our bus, and then came into Portsmouth to watch us perform and take some pictures of us (one of them is the new banner photo on our website!). We spent the afternoon chatting with Mark and enjoying Portsmouth, which is a very beautiful little town. Mark used to travel a lot, and had some great stories for us. We then headed out of Portsmouth to catch the farmers market in Northwood, New Hampshire. It was next to a very busy and loud intersection, but we managed to get a few smiles and laughs even from those audiences
Thursday evening we drove west to stay the night with our friend Matt in Warner, New Hampshire. We got almost there when one of the front tires of the bus started to shred on the highway. We got it towed, spent the night at Matt's house, and then on Friday I (Forrest) spent the day at the repair shop getting new front tires for the bus, while the rest of the crew got started rehearsing the next addition to our repertoire, Fool's Gold.
Friday night found us in Burlington, Vermont, where we spent the weekend being hosted by my cousins, Chapin Spencer and Rebecca Grannis and their little Zia. Their hospitality was overwhelming, and Burlington was a joy. We performed to great success, and our largest audiences yet, at the Burlington farmers market, and then later in the day performed for our dinner at a party hosted by some friends of Chapin and Rebecca's. Vermont folks are so friendly and hospitable. On Sunday we performed again for some wonderful food, brought along again by Chapin and Rebecca to a pig roast at Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg, Vermont. After so many busy streets with most people walking right past, it's such a pleasure to perform for a large seated, attentive audience.
Today we continued rehearsal on Fool's Gold, which we hope to have ready in the next couple of days, and then performed in Hanover, New Hampshire, in front of the town hall and on the campus of Dartmouth College. We've found that not very many college students stop and watch (we got a lot of "sorry, I have so much homework"), but the ones who do are very fun audiences.
We have a pretty good idea of where we're going to be this week, if you live around these areas, or know folks who do, we'd love to see you there!
Tues - Keene, NH, farmers' market and Brattleboro, VT
Wed - Shelburne Falls and Greenfield, MA, and the Turners Falls farmers' market
Thurs - Northampton, MA, and the South Hadley farmers' market
Fri - Hampshire College and the Easthampton farmers' market
Sat - Amherst farmers' market
Below are a slide show of us reveling in the generosity of the Concord farmers market, and a few other photos from our last week:
Our new friend Mark's picture of our bus looking out at the ocean.
The tire that very badly needed replacing.
Chapin Spencer's photo of us taking our bows after performing at the pig roast on
Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg.
We've officially made it to the east coast! We arrived in New Hampshire last Thursday, and spent a couple of days in Meredith, NH helping our dear friend Matt Frost film a conference there (yes, we can also be a part time camera crew. Gotta stay flexible!). Then we stopped in a lovely town green in Plymouth, NH, to spend an afternoon making masks for a new show of ours. Mr. Rabbit Takes Mr. Wolf for a ride is the newest addition to our repertoire. We've found children to be some of our best audiences, so we decided to add a show that they'd enjoy especially. Mr. Rabbit is from an African folktale (we changed Mr. Leopard to Mr. Wolf to stay local), although it is very much in the same tradition as our Brer Rabbit, as well as Bugs Bunny.
Saturday we headed up north a little further to North Conway, NH, where Matt, continuing to be our best friend (he also happens to be Angie's boyfriend), hosted us at his family's cottage, and allowed us to sleep in real beds and even take showers! On Sunday we performed both Pantalone Goes A-Wooing and Mr. Rabbit on the town green. We even have a little magic show now to perform between shows while most of the troupe is changing masks and costumes. Mr. Rabbit proved an excellent hit with the kids.
Today we performed several places around downtown Manchester, NH. We're looking into more trickster stories with animals to adapt into shows for kids. We're also looking forward to begin performing at farmer's markets. We have our week approximately plotted out (always subject to change, of course) as follows:
Tuesday - Amherst, NH town green and Bedford, NH farmers market
Wednesday - Concord, NH downtown and farmers market
Thursday - Portsmouth, NH
Friday - Montpelier, VT
Saturday - Burlington, VT
After that we'll be heading south from Burlington, catching a few places along the way, and landing in western Massachusetts by the end of next week. That's all the news that's fit to print!
And just for fun, a photo that a family wanted to have taken with us after seeing our performance of Mr. Rabbit in Manchester today (missing from our photo is of course Robyn - Mr. Rabbit is a small cast, so we switch around who's playing, and she was behind the scenes and camera for this one). The family, from left to right, are Louis, James, Trevor, and Kate.
We're off! The project has officially begun. We performed in Ann Arbor and Dexter, MI on September 8th, had another week of preparations, and hit the road yesterday, Monday September 16th. We drove down to Oberlin OH, where we scoped out some performance sites. This morning we got up and performed Pantalone Goes A-Wooing on the campus of Oberlin College. And now eastward! We'll be in either Rochester or Syracuse by night. See you soon east coast!
Hi folks! We're planning, dreaming, and fundraising, but we haven't really started blogging yet. Check back soon for updates on the project, and once we're on the road in September we'll be posting here regularly.